Loremaster’s Archive: Bretons & High Isle

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Author (in-game): Lady Arabelle

Librarian Note:

This article was posted on elderscrollsonline.com on June 14th, 2022, and can be seen here. It was not accompanied by a separate book.


The community has lore questions, and Lady Arabelle herself has answers! Learn more about the noble Bretons of High Isle in our latest Loremaster’s Archive.

Gentle readers, I bid you salutations from Mandrake Manor, my home on High Isle! I can hear rain pelting the windowpanes as I put quill to parchment, a delightful evening shower after a day of beautiful weather and pleasant company.

I must admit, it is not often that I am asked to write on matters of state and society. In truth, my fingers are rarely ink-stained these days for any reason, but the request came from Lord Bacaro himself. Along with a fine bottle of Abecean brandy.

So, given my new role as troubleshooter for the Society of the Steadfast, I am happy, even delighted, to scrawl these responses to your considered questions. Imagine me, if you must, feet up before a roaring fire with a generous pour in my glass. Let’s get to it.


When did Bretons first settle the Systres? How impactful of a Direnni influence was there on the first settlers, and how has the culture of the archipelago historically been affected by the shift of power from Elven to human hands?

—Cosmo_Nova

An excellent question to start us out, my dear. You have given me an opportunity to pull a volume from the works of Trilam Heladren. Crisp, intelligent writing and fine publishing from the University of Gwylim. Trilam notes that the first proper settlers on the isles were the druids, who arrived sometime around the year 330 of the 1st Era. These religious migrants were caught between a rock and a hard place, the Direnni Elves on one side and the zealots at the heart of the rising Alessian Empire to the other.

To my knowledge, the Systres Archipelago is one of the few spits of rock in the Abecean that were not claimed by an expansive Elven empire. Which is not to say that Elves have never ruled here (more on that below). The original culture of the islands, then, was druidic. Imported from the ancient forests of High Rock, druidic beliefs can be seen as a solemn response to the high-minded mercantile nature of their Elven overlords.

The druids of old saw Y’ffre and nature herself as the antidote to the heartless deprivations of their homeland. In a way, these early days here on the isles marked the start of modern druiddom. The line of their ancient kings would come to an end, the circles were formed, and their stewardship of nature allowed them to put down roots (so to speak) that survive to this day.

It has come to my attention the Systres were once what the Sinistrals called home. How has that influenced the culture of the druids living on this archipelago, if at all? Furthermore, these islands seem to be rather close to Thras, unless my maps are somehow incorrect. Are Sload a concern?

—Inari of Great House Telvanni

A truly fascinating tale to be found here, so thank you for asking! The Sinistral Mer, or “Lefthanded Elves,” were said to be the enemies of the Na-Totambu royalty of the Yokudan continent. If you’re unfamiliar with Yokuda, gentle reader, the ancestral home of the Redguard is located far to the west of the Systres islands. So many beautiful tales from that part of the world. I recommend the tome “The Ubiquitous Sinking Isle” for an interesting analysis of lost Yokuda.

Tales that survived this somewhat eventful period in Systres history speak of refugees from Yokuda landing on High Isle, Galen, and Amenos roughly three hundred years after the druids. Antiquarians have confirmed this through a number of physical remnants, though—to answer your question, my dear—I don’t feel personally these new arrivals had a significant impact on druidic culture. The druid circles’ reaction to these invaders was to fade into the wilds as much as possible, hiding in caves along the waterfront and deep in the jungles of Amenos.

As for the Sload, well, I would say they’re always a concern, aren’t they? I find them quite concerning. But as far as physical proximity to Thras, it’s worth noting that maps that show a “Thrassian Reef” or anything of that nature are by necessity mapping a mostly underwater civilization to the islands we landwalkers use to navigate. There have been no Sload attacks here on High Isle in centuries, and I’ll raise my glass in hopes there are none here anytime soon.

Despite now being a decidedly Bretonic archipelago, there are signs of habitation from many different races in the Systres Archipelago, possibly including those from Sunken Yokuda?

—Aramithius, Writer in Uncertainty

An excellent question, expanding on the discussion of the Sinistral Mer your cohort asked above! It’s true, Bretons have left many footprints in the sand here in the Systres. Unfortunately, lasting signs of Yokudan-diaspora habitation are next to nil.

We’ve already discussed the refugees from the west landing and conquering these beautiful isles. Whether they were indeed Lefthanded Elves or, as some scholars argue, Yokudan enemies of the No-Totambu given that name, they held the Systres in their grip for a few hundred years after their wave of conquest swept the Systres.

But, as we all know, some waves crash harder than others. Late in the first millennium, Frandar Hunding’s Ra Gada sailed past the archipelago. Their conquests in the Alik’r have become the stuff of legend, but their relatively brief stop on High Isle cleared it of western invaders with a swift and ruthless exhibition of the sword-singer tradition. Whether the previous invaders were Mer or not, they were clearly enemies of the Ra Gada. As a result, though some druid tales still tell of this brief period in the island’s history, few and far between are the tangible signs of their passing.

Certainly, we have none of the beautiful ruins or architectural elements to be seen in the desert near Sentinel or the steppes near Hallin’s Stand. I hope that does not disappoint. I can assure you we have many beautiful ruins and castles to view here, but they are all of the old-and-moldering-Bretonic style. More’s the pity.

I’ve heard rumors of strange deerfolk and crabfolk sightings within the archipelago. If they truly exist, are these beings forms of beastfolk? Do they have cultures of their own, or are they more akin to the Yaghra which have been plaguing Summerset of late?

—LickingHistSap

Ah, yes, yes. The Fauns and Hadolids. Fascinating creatures, though by their very nature not terribly well understood. My apologies, dear, I should not say creature: they have kith and kin, signs of culture, and a history all their own. But in nearly all circumstances, the interactions between Men or Mer and these beastfolk are violent, painful, and cruel.

The Hadolids are, as you say, a sort of crabfolk being that lives primarily underwater. Much of the mystery of their culture stems from their primarily aquatic nature. For all we know, they may have vast underwater cities beneath the waves. On land they form stopover settlements from local materials, bringing with them resources, food, weapons, and a surprising panoply of domesticated creatures from their ocean home. In their defense, the Hadolid propensity for violence and isolation may be understandable. They are ancient enemies of the Sload, and whole campaigns from the two are said to take place on the seabed floor.

Fauns, meanwhile, are local to the Systres. They fill an ecological niche similar to Goblins back on mainland Tamriel and are about as charming and welcoming as those famously murderous and ill-tempered beings. Just why the Fauns reject other cultures with such violence is hard to say. But just as study into Goblin culture has been in fits and starts because of a propensity for the subjects to kill the researchers, an understanding of Faun dialect and tradition is sadly lacking.

Do the druids of High Isle have any kind of relation to the wyrds in Glenumbra, such as the Beldama Wyrd?

—Nightlord

A perfectly reasonable question, my dear, and one I had myself before I was able to speak to a few representatives of the True Way here on High Isle. In short, yes. The wyrd and the druids are branches from the same tree (so to speak). They both stem from ancient people living in the woods and moors of High Rock long, long ago.

The difference in their faith and function is cultural. And I apologize in advance, as the druids I spoke to were perhaps less politic than they might have been in describing this split. From the Stonelore point of view, the wyrd choose to live as “half-men,” to essentially prostrate themselves before nature and do its bidding. Some druids, it seems, see the wyrd as little more than children, playing a grand game of make-believe.

In contrast, the druids of the Stonelore, Eldertide, and Firesong circles are guardians and champions of nature. They steward the growth of forests and defend ancient sites of power from the cruel influence of civilization. Each of the three circles, in turn, have their own viewpoint of how best to accomplish this goal.

How does being fully surrounded geographically by sea (instead of land) affect the local Breton’s (and general High Isle population’s) culture in comparison to other High Rock areas such as Glenumbra, Stormhaven, and Rivenspire?

—Cerulione

In many ways, you’ll see some of the same sights and sounds here in Gonfalon Bay as in Wayrest, Evermore, or any of the large cities back on the mainland. You can buy sweetrolls by the dozen, drown your sorrows with cheap grog, and pay a bard for a stirring rendition of “Three Hearts as One.” The biggest differences you’re likely to encounter are cultural influences from a roaring maritime trade, the pageantry of the knightly orders, and the wellspring of the druidic faith.

For example, every few weeks the locals here in Gonfalon Bay celebrate something they call “Angler’s Day.” It’s an informal holiday to Kynareth, a local patron of sailors and fisherfolk. Taverns sell fish-based dishes at a discounted price, and anglers find themselves drinking for free wherever they choose to hang their hat for the night. Sailor-talk has ended up as common turns of phrase in the local language as well. If someone calls you to show up somewhere “on the bell,” for example, they’re telling you to arrive on time. Someone might call you a “tar-grip,” which means they think you’re reliable—perhaps even a friend!

Druidic words have also made their way into the local parlance, though fewer and farther between. If someone calls you a “sandpiper,” it’s a sort of derogatory term for “a person from off the isles.” The druidic word for welcome, “Vailten” (pronounced VAL-chen) might escape from a few lips now and again. And if someone stubs their toe and shouts “Draigh,” (pronounced “DRAYG”) well, that’s a sort of impolite curse fancied up by a lovely druid word.

What other foods do the Bretons of High Isle eat apart from crabs—and possibly sunflower seeds?

—Santie Paws

Hahaha, a fine question, Santie. Since my retirement, I have enjoyed cuisine from my old home in High Rock to the very tip of the Elsweyr sands. And by the Eight do these people know how to cook, especially if you like seafood.

If you have the honor of sitting down at a noble’s table, you’ll be treated to glorious luxuries like Hundred-Year Bisque, Parrot and Pumpkin Salad, and Grilled Sweet and Sour Sea Adder. In a tavern, especially on Angler’s Day, you’ll have a wide variety of simple, filling options like Breton Bubble-and-Squeak, Apple Baked Fish, chowders (including fish, clams, shrimp), all varieties of seafood, and my personal favorite: mudcrab fries. Delicious!

My sister travels more than I and regales me with most ridiculous tales. After returning from Wayrest, she spoke of Breton betrothals. This one understands the concept of marriage for political gain, alliances that benefit all, but my sister also speaks of nobles who instead keep the family “strong” and “pure” by marrying each other. Ziss’vo, surely she jests?! I ask in strict confidence, because I wish not to offend in my upcoming journey to the Systres.

—Sugars-her-Milk

Sugars, it may be the brandy or the fact that I’ve been at this for a few hours but this question. Is. Exciting. I could share with you many, many, many stories. There was, in particular, a sordid party at Castle Ravenwatch about ten years ago where a certain young noblewoman and her brother—but I digress.

Is this salacious rumor rooted in reality? To a degree. Certainly in ages past, the nobility of High Rock entertained notions that we in modern times would find most peculiar. For example, a historian I once traveled with loved to amuse me with stories of pagan rituals in the high country beyond Kerbol’s Hollow in the Bangkorai region. But much like this man’s stories of paint-slick bodies and mind-altering concoctions, “blood purity” customs make for excellent tales around the campfire and very poor grist for a respected historian.

For a more recent, specific example you need look no further than the so-called “Ranser’s War.” In the wake of the ill-advised uprising led by King Ranser, rumors spread from every tavern along the Stormhaven high road that the now-defeated upstart had been keeping company with every sibling in the royal line. His daughter Rayelle, the fulcrum upon which the conflict itself had started, was likewise rumored to be the result of one of these genealogically complex couplings.

Nonsense, all of it. But it makes for a good tale over a tankard of ale and so, much like the rumor your sister passed along, you will hear stories of “pure blood” relationships arise every few years. I suggest you listen to them with the proverbial pile of salt at your fingertips. But thank you for asking!

And with that my friends, I believe I shall call it a night. My glass has grown empty, and the fire has gone cold. I imagine I will have a full day tomorrow working beside Lord Bacaro—many preparations to make yet.

I wish you all a fine eve, with fondest hopes this has been as entertaining to read as it has been to write.

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